Why the Statue of Liberty Proves Crowdfunding Works

Statue of LibertyIn 1884, the organization tasked with erecting the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor ran out of money for the Statue’s pedestal. Thankfully, it had powerful friends, and one of them, Joseph Pulitzer, offered a solution. He ran an article in his newspaper New York World calling on readers to help finish the job:

“We must raise the money! The $250,000 that the making of the Statue cost was paid in by the masses of the French people—by the working men, the tradesmen, the shop girls, the artisans… Let us respond in like manner. Let us not wait for the millionaires to give us this money. It is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.”

The campaign raised over $100,000 in six months, with most of the 125,000 people who contributed sending $1 or less. This may have been the first crowdfunding campaign, and the World—the first crowdfunding platform. Modern crowdfunding differs in that it uses digital means to get results more quickly and efficiently.

This is how trainer Catrin Cooper introduced crowdfunding and digital fundraising at a week-long training workshop in October organized by the America for Bulgaria Foundation for Bulgarian NGO partners. Catrin is training and engagement coordinator at GlobalGiving, the world’s largest crowdfunding community, which helps nonprofits worldwide get funding for their work. This fall, the Foundation teamed up with GlobalGiving to help Bulgarian NGOs expand their reach and learn how to take advantage of digital fundraising opportunities.

Advantages of CrowdfundingThe New York World article is an example of a successful donor pitch, as it answers all important questions that potential donors may have about an initiative: Why should I care? What challenge are you addressing? Why should I trust you to solve the problem? How will my support make a difference?

“A question I hear often from NGOs is ‘Who would care about my cause?’ Some organizations don’t have a cause that pulls at the heartstrings or that you think of initially when making a donation,” Catrin said. “We have had all sorts of organizations like these, and they have succeeded. If you work in a very niche area, you may need to be creative with your strategy.”

Crowdfunding may be a particularly good option for niche initiatives. In fact, studies suggest that 64 percent of projects that raised funds via donation-based crowdfunding were unlikely to receive financial backing elsewhere. “This indicates that the crowd are willing to fund projects that traditional funders aren’t,” Catrin said. “Going online also opens networks up to a global scale quickly, cheaply, and efficiently.”

There is more good news: crowdfunding is not limited only to societies with a developed culture of giving, and the story of Russian newspaper The New Times proves it. In October 2018, a Russian court slapped the independent Russian newspaper with a 336,000-dollar fine for allegedly missing a deadline for submitting a financial report. The fine would have shut down the small newspaper and stifled yet another opposition voice. This is when digital crowdfunding stepped in: thousands of Russians citizens made contributions, collecting the money for the fine in just four days.

Success fundraising onlineThe GlobalGiving workshops in Sofia had a twofold goal: inform participants about online fundraising opportunities and teach them how to prepare a successful crowdfunding strategy. Workshop participants practiced the key skills needed to execute a campaign such as writing effective campaign descriptions and donor pitches, learning to anticipate donors’ questions, and preparing action plans.

GlobalGiving provides training and support and connects nonprofits with both corporate and individual donors. Over its 16-year existence, the organization has helped nonprofits in 170 countries successfully implement more than 19,000 projects and raise nearly 300 million US dollars.

In addition to GlobalGiving, there are many good online platforms to help with nonprofits’

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